By Amber Katz

Published on September 14, 2018

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We’re living in a golden age of beauty: With so many brands and skus, there’s more choice than ever, more transparency with regard to formulas, and tons of natural options that work—even in the realm of haircare. That said, the vast spectrum of prices can be difficult to navigate. Why are some products so expensive while others get away with being insanely affordable? Is it because of the ingredients, brand, packaging? To add to the haircare conundrum, there are more platforms than ever for reviews, from Amazon to YouTube videos, to blogs and websites, to magazines. And yet, finding your dream shampoo can still feel as if you’re in the Wild West. Can you fare just as well with a good drugstore find?

To find out, Domino tapped Original Mineral creative director Janelle Chaplin, stylist and eponymous salon owner Paul Labrecque, celebrity hairstylist Tommy Buckett, Sally Hershberger/Tim Rogers stylist Scott Fabian and cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson of BeautyStat.com. Here, we’ll break down those learnings to teach you how to shop to get the best products by price point.

You Are Paying A Premium For Ingredients

Buckett says that yes, more expensive products usually have better ingredients and performing technology. “More expensive product tends to be more concentrated as well, resulting in using less product per use,” he explains. It’s important the read all labels on shampoo and conditioner bottles to determine the best products for your hair type. Fabian also notes that the ingredients are the driver of higher prices. The companies that spend more money on getting the best quality ingredients to create the best quality prices for your hair can result in a price increase. “These shampoos tend to include more natural ingredients than do the lower end brands that may have ingredients made in a lab and are not very good for your hair,” he explains.

 “More expensive product tends to be more concentrated as well, resulting in using less product per use.” 

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You Are Also Paying A Premium For Packaging

Chaplin points out that in addition to paying for ingredients, you’re also paying for more luxe packaging. Those top shelfies come at a cost! These days, drugstore hair care products are often as good in quality and performance as their prestige counterparts, Robinson says. But he agrees with Chaplin: “Though some prestige products might contain exotic ingredients, more often the price discrepancy is due to the brand and packaging,” he explains. Packaging should never be more than a third of the total cost, however, maintains Labrecque. “Many companies make this mistake by picking far too expensive bottles, going for elaborate jars and other decorations and visual graphics,” he says.

Keep in mind that if they’re packaging an ingredient that’s imported, it will definitely increase the overall cost you’re paying as a consumer, he adds. He does this with his own range of products. For example, there are marine ingredients in his dead sea mud Daily Condition Instant Repair. “Very large companies and brands like Pantene are able to keep costs down a bit more since they can purchase ingredients in bulk and mass quantities,” Labrecque says.

Packaging should never be more than a third of the total cost.” 

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Skip The Sulfates & Parabens

One thing to look for when shopping for drugstore gems is sulfates. Sulfates can be tricky as they are usually one of the main ingredients in the formula; it’s what makes the shampoo sudsy, Fabian notes. “However, they can make hair color or keratin fade out faster so find one that has little to no sulfates,” he explains. Robinson agrees: “Sulfate-based cleansing ingredients tend to over-strip the hair, leaving it very dry and damaged,” he says. It’s more difficult to create a formula of ‘poo with no sulfates, thus why it can cost more on the shelf. 

“Sulfate-based cleansing ingredients tend to over strip the hair.”

And beware that brands tend to tout that their conditioners boast zero sulfates, when conditioner doesn’t contain sulfates anyway as those are used in surfactants, or cleansers. Always take a look on your shampoo bottle and look for the ingredient “sodium laureth sulfate” listed toward the top.

Robinson also says to avoid parabens, “because these preservative ingredients can be absorbed by the body and known to cause harm.” Chaplin agrees on skipping sulfates and parabens when possible, and also suggests avoiding fragrances, triclosan, polyethylene glycol, when shampoo shopping.

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Ingredients To Look For Dry Hair

There are so many ingredients that can benefit the various hair types. For dry or damaged hair, Robinson likes coconut or olive oil, as both can penetrate the hair to replenish lost moisture. Fabian recommends avoiding ingredients like alcohol and sodium, which will dry your hair out more. Instead, he says to look for something with natural oils in it—argan, jojoba or coconut are great options. His recommendations? Sally Hershberger 24K shampoo gives a great cleanse and lightweight hydration. He also likes Shu Uemura’s suite of cleansing hair products.

Buckett loves Garnier shampoos, which include those beloved moisturizing ingredients of coconut and olive oil for dry hair. “Products with argan oil and avocado are good to smooth unruly hair,” Buckett explains. Chaplin also says to opt for natural extracts in the ingredient list. Think coconut oil, aloe vera, jojoba extract, extra virgin olive oil, castor oil, and honey. “Dryness can be combated with a great moisturizing mask that locks water into each strand and provides an equal balance of water and protein,” says Labrecque.

 “Products with argan oil and avocado are good to smooth unruly hair.” 

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Ingredients To Look For For Oily Hair

For oily hair, Robinson says to opt for charcoal, which has recently undergone a resurgence in popularity. It can purify and detoxify the hair, he says. One to try: Pantene Pro V Charcoal Shampoo.

Fabian says that those with oily hair want to opt for something with an astringent property, like that Sally Hershberger 24K Get Gorgeous Shampoo mentioned above (works for dry and oily hair!).   

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Ingredients To Look For For Curly Hair

For curly and textured hair, Robinson says that shea butter works to protect the hair with additional moisture. Another new ingredient that is becoming very popular is apple cider vinegar, he says, which can be used as rinse to rid hair of styling product build-up, thus leaving hair less frizzy, dull, and damaged.

For those with textured and curly hair, Robinson recommends using ingredients that are more moisturizing or opting for a cleansing conditioner (sometimes called an unwash), as they cleanse the hair without drying it out. “Curls tend to need more natural oils to keep the hair shiny and smooth, and every so often I would recommend a good deep cleanse to remove all the build up,” he says.

We like L’Oreal Paris Hair Expertise EverPure 6-in-1 Cleansing Balm, which costs just $10. “Curly hair will benefit from a lipid-based mask, whereas those with straight hair should go for a protein-based mask and/or a leave-in formula,” says Labrecque.

For curly or textured hair, try Trader Joe’s Shea Butter & Coconut Oil Hair Mask. Its revitalizing formula transforms hair from roots to ends when you leave it on for about five inutes in the shower. Use it once a week for soft, silky hair. The best part? It costs a wallet-friendly $4. Plus, you can pick it up when you grocery shopping.

“Curly hair will benefit from a lipid-based mask, whereas those with straight hair should go for a protein-based mask and/or a leave-in formula.” 

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Drugstore Product Recommendations

Robinson says to opt for the big players, Pantene, L’Oreal Paris, and Garnier, but he also likes some of the newer launches from Dove and SheaMoisture. Chaplin is also a fan of SheaMoisture’s quality at a great price point. Fabian also recommends Dove’s range of hair care and is impressed with its breadth of choices for varied hair types. Labrecque is a fan of Pantene as well. “I always tell my clients if you can’t afford products from my signature line, try Pantene. They have a lot of money behind them, and I think that typically suggests they do a lot of research and use the latest and greatest technology.”

Last, Buckett notes that it’s important to use products designed for your hair. “Do not use products that are for normal, non-treated hair, as those can dry out hair even more,” he says. He likes Garnier Whole Blends collection as an affordable option that both treats and enhances hair.

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Masks And Conditioners

There are three things in every conditioner: lipids or oils, water, and protein. If you have dry hair you would need to look for and use a conditioner that’s more lipid-based, and if you’re on the more oily side, look for a product with a higher concentration of protein, Labrecque says. “Those with normal hair would be happy with a product that’s a balance of all of these key ingredients,” he explains. Fabian says to avoid conditioners and masks with silicones, as “they usually just sit on the surface of your hair and don’t actually do anything.” As far as conditioner goes, he says to go with the most natural option.

“Those with normal hair would be happy with a product that’s a balance of all of these key ingredients.”

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He recommends using Pinterest for DIY hair mask recipes based on your hair type. Chaplin also says to avoid heavy silicone products. “Dimethicone is a water soluble silicone, which is much nicer on the hair,” she says. Buckett is obsessed with Garnier Fructis 1-Minute Hair Masks. “There is a different mask for all hair types and can be used in just one minute, so there is no excuse that you have no time. These masks help to enhance moisture and shine,” he explains.

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Labrecque says that he always tell any swimmer clients to buy good old fashioned Cholesterol by Queen Helene. “It will shield hair of any damage the pool or beach does,” he says. Labrecque says that masks are very treatment-based so it depends what you’re looking for and wanting to “cure.” To start, a hot oil treatment is great to help with breakage and fill in the hair shaft. “Split ends can always benefit from a lipid-based mask to help camouflage the ends,” he says. Our pick? Neutrogena Triple Moisture Deep Recovery Hair Mask sets you back just $8 and mends ravaged ends in mere minutes.

More beauty tips ahead:

24 Luxe Skincare Products Worth The Splurge

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